Monthly Archives: April 2020

Operation Oysterhood: Day Thirty-Five

OYSTERHOOD is reclusiveness or solitude, or an overwhelming desire to stay at home.



Harbinger of death. I did not watch Wild Earth for long this morning, and this is what I got.

Much sweeter was the image today, and another ridiculous bird name. Hoary redpoll? Really? Very cosy-looking nest though, perfect for oysterhood.


A stranger with the most wonderful voice phoned today and inquired – very kindly – whether I would be interested in reading the Bible together with him. He was quite intrigued when I – very kindly – explained that I did not believe in God but read the Bible occasionally, on my own. We spoke briefly about my favourite passage from the holy book. He asked whether he could give me a reference to another passage I might find inspiring during these difficult times. Yes, of course, I said. I made a note, thanked him, but declined when asked whether he could phone again. I am almost sorry; he sounded so nice. But I absolutely hate talking on the phone to people I don’t know – it’s pure torture, no matter how lovely they sound. I did look up the passage, though. The first verse did nothing for me, but the second did move me. The kind stranger’s number did register on my phone… But, sadly perhaps, the depth of my religion is limited to following The Tweet of God on Twitter. True belief would mean following the one person God follows on Twitter, and my faith is not strong enough for such a challenge.

Other reading material arrived just as surprisingly on my doorstep this morning – the first thing in my postbox for a month, I think.


I loved reading the article about how the newly established Baxter Radio is assisting with education and entertainment during the pandemic. And these words by Lara Foot captured my love for the medium and made me understand why the whole streaming things is not intuitively my cup of tea:

I’m not a fan of live-streaming because I believe that theatre doesn’t exist without the special connection between actor and audience. To distil theatre through a screen is what I call anti-theatre. However, the old and trusted medium of radio asks the audience to listen and engage, which is comparable to the form of theatre.

But the Baxter is my cup of coffee!

A different kind of reading all together today was the Western Cape’s Covid-19 dashboard:

Western Province

The Cats and I live in one of the heart of the pandemic in South Africa. No wonder I am seeing vultures and people are trying to save my soul before it’s too late.


Most challenging read of the day? Glinka and I decided to face and study the Regulation Gazette No. 43258, 29 April 2020, Vol. 658 No. 11098. ‘Risk Adjustment’. These two words are the ones that stick with me. This particular risk is not going anywhere soon. But to survive financially we need to adjust. Between a rock and a hard place. Or, between a pandemic and financial ruin. Impossible choices.

The last day of the lockdown, level five. Maybe.

I am monstrual and my back pain got to the stage where I can no longer move a millimeter without pain, so my judgement is clouded. No decisions should be taken in such a state. The body speaks a simple language; it makes its own demands. ‘Listen to your body, it never lies.’

It helped to do my garden loop walk today (no rewards, just my favourite Austrian radio station for company for half an hour), hopefully the last garden loop walk for a while… Although a return to level five in the Western Cape, or at least Cape Town, is probably imminent. Please, please! let me be wrong…


What keeps me going? My potatoes! They are growing. And my coriander. And lemons. I now just have to convince the Cats that the feline gods of ancient Egypt ate potatoes sprinkled with fresh coriander and drank lemon water – and we will live happily ever after while the world continues to find a balance between greed and kindness…

Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. Stay at home.

“Physical distancing remains one of the key strategies to curb this pandemic.”


PS Did you know that YouTube can play your favourite song of the moment on repeat for an hour? Oh, joy! Blinded by the Lights.

PPS If you want to read a beautiful plea for book deliveries (all books) to readers, click here: Helen Moffett. Thank you, Dr M.

PPPS: Do you know what ‘MACS J1149+2223 Lensed Star 1’ is? If not, ask Ms Google. All I will say is that it comes in my favourite colour.

Review: I Wish I’d Said…Vol. 2 edited by Johann de Lange and Mandla Maphumulo

I Wish I'd Said

‘…A similar sentiment is captured in two exquisite lines of “Two images, after a call” by Nick Mulgrew: “The gentle go gentle. Even in daydreams you cannot wound,/ more the way you left your book unread; cold tea on the table.” The same way these images of loss spoke directly to my innermost thoughts and feelings, there will be numerous others that each individual reader will find touching. Across the different languages, the poems illuminate the universality of grief. And we live in a time of worldwide loss, not only because of the threat to the welfare of the people we know and love, but because our entire way of being is changing on a seismic scale as we enter a period of global transformation and have to cope with the grief that goes with the gradual vanishing of security and vision.

A broken tree, a pillar falling, a mountain collapsing, loved ones going to sleep – these are metaphors often referring to our demise; a “human library” departing features in “It’s time” by Moses Seletisha (second place winner in Sepedi), and life is described as a “paper fire” in “That’s life, my child” by Nolusindiso Mali (original in Xhosa). I suspect that a lot of the beauty of many of the poems’ original rhythms and imagery is lost in translation, but numerous sparks of uniqueness shine through the layers of various languages, as in this delicate line: “Sleep when wounded and accept,” with which Neliswa “Sange.M” Sampi-Mxunyelwa ends the fourth-place contribution in the Xhosa category…’

To read the entire review, please see: LitNet

I Wish I'd Said_excerpt

I Wish I’d Said … Vol. 2

Edited by Johann de Lange and Mandla Maphumulo

Naledi, 2019

Operation Oysterhood: Day Thirty-Four

OYSTERHOOD is reclusiveness or solitude, or an overwhelming desire to stay at home.


It feels counter-intuitive: 354 new cases, the highest daily increase since the beginning of the lockdown, death toll also rising by ten people, and on the same evening these announcements are made we contemplate and debate the move to level four. Yes, the details of the regulations hurt in all sorts of ways, they are also partly confusing, and they will have dire consequences for many sectors of the economy, but the bottom line is that no one is doing this to destroy the economy. This is an attempt to save as many lives and as many livelihoods as possible under impossible circumstances. And, I suppose, anyone who had been under the illusion that it is going to get easier from now on should have known better, because we have been aware for quite a while now that this pandemic is a PANDEMIC and that it is spreading fast and it is only a matter of time until it hits us with full force. It’s coming, slower than elsewhere because of our lockdown, but it’s coming. And it ain’t gonna be pretty. If we’ve learned anything from other countries around the world, it is that, in order to prevent massacres, we need to act fast and create as much time as possible between the beginning and peak of the infection rate to save as many lives as possible. Flatten the curve. That’s it. We might not like the finer details (I’m deeply sorry for all my friends who will be forced to buy cigarettes on the black market, but I will not fight for the legal sale of cigarettes now – c’mon! – this can’t be the most serious matter under the circumstances – there must be better ways to invest our energies in the near future…); they – the finer details – might be so much more than an inconvenience, but at the heart of all of this is scientific knowledge and the only virus-proof prevention measure we know: physical distancing.

I promised myself not to cry tonight. I am thinking about books, of course, educational and otherwise – my cigarettes. I will study the regulations very carefully and see whether I can legally use the postal and/or courier services to get Karavan Press books and books I have (co)authored or (co)edited to eager readers out there (most of the stock is with distributors who are probably not allowed to distribute anything apart from “educational books”, by which I am almost certain the government means “text/academic books”; but I do have some stock of novels etc. in my home…). Just in case you, Dear Reader, are interested in buying books directly from me, and the regulations allow me to send them to you, please place your pre-orders in the comments below or contact me directly. (I promise to consult with relevant parties that bind me contractually to the book industry before I make a sale this way. And Karavan Press authors will receive all their due royalties, of course.) Let’s see tomorrow what the fine print of the published level four regulations will say and how it can be interpreted legally.

Whether I can or can’t sale books, I will continue reading and writing them and supporting the book industry in any way I still possibly can.

However, and this has been clear to me from the start: during a pandemic of such proportions, I will NOT risk anyone’s health or life for a book. “I would prefer not to”, in the words of Bartleby, the Scrivener…


It seems like this day, before the evening addresses and announcements, ended not only a few hours ago but a few years ago. It was a good day despite back pain. The day began with kitschy skies and the cutest cheetah cubs.

With Salieri’s catssistance (a word that Penny Haw taught me – thank you), I finished reading Katherine Stansfield’s third novel The Magpie Tree and started her fourth, The Mermaid’s Call. Historical fantasy/crime fiction – purest escapism, written by a novelist with a poet’s sensitivity. Loving it.

I had a lovely Skype chat with my Mom and she showed me Myszka, her new kitchen (installed very professionally according to physical distancing rules this morning) and her tulips.

Myszka was not amused, but it made me very happy to see these two ladies today.

I ate pickled waterblommetjies for lunch. A taste of the season.


Before I sat down to work at my computer, I sat on the stoep with Glinka for a while and thought of all my friends who usually sit at my red stoep table to work or read or just relax when they visit. There was a moment in the day when my whole feline family was on the stoep with me today and I felt at peace.

The sun was so soothing today, especially since the nights are getting colder and the house is gradually cooling down. It turns into a fridge in winter. I need to fill up with mild sunshine until then.

I spent most of today wrapped in the wrap that my love bought for me at Oudrif. I need the comfort and magic of objects to sustain me through this time of transformation, loss and longing.


Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. Stay at home.

“Physical distancing remains one of the key strategies to curb this pandemic.”


Operation Oysterhood: Day Thirty-Three

OYSTERHOOD is reclusiveness or solitude, or an overwhelming desire to stay at home.


Mozart 2

My baby-kitten is fourteen years old today! Happy Birthday, Mr Mozart. All day long, he has been his usual elusive self, but he came into the kitchen when I was preparing dinner and I gave him a special treat for his birthday.

Glinka and her kittens

This is his mom, Gienia, with Mozart’s sisters, Myszka and Anya (Mozart is the kitten on the right) soon after they were born. Myszka still lives with my Mom. Happy Birthday, Myszka! A few months after giving birth, Gienia decided to move in with the neighbours, and she still lives there, happily. My Mom and the neighbours became friends because of her resettlement.

Mozart and his sisters

Mozart and Anya came to live in Cape Town in September 2006. Anya was killed by a passing car on 27 January 2007. Mozart and she were extremely close (Myszka was the runt of the litter and would not have survived without my parents’ intervention). When Anya died, Mozart didn’t know what to do with himself. But then, Salieri and Glinka came to live with us and we are a family now. But I still miss beautiful Anya, and knowing Mozart’s incredible memory, I think he probably does too.

My heart melts looking at all the kitten photos that I have of them all…


Today, writers and readers took a stand for books to be delivered to our homes under the level four regulations.

I signed the letter wholeheartedly because of the delivery aspect. After everything that I have witnessed in food shops during lockdown, I think that we are already abusing the current shopping regulations under level five, and we will probably abuse them even more if more shops are allowed to open. But I happily support a professional and safe home delivery of any products, especially books. In this respect, my experience has been very encouraging. Even today, I received another coffee delivery and I never felt that I was threatening the safety of the delivery person or he mine during the brief (non)interaction. I will happily pay extra for this service: so much safer for both parties.

Otherwise, the day was quiet, filled for a while with good quiet work in the afternoon.



My back is still sore, but I now have a proper hot-water-bottle to make sitting at the computer bearable.



Dearest Sally, I did try to tune in to your launch on FB, even though after attending just one, I promised myself that I would not attend another virtual book launch, but the thing would not play on my cell phone and I couldn’t leave the fire unattended to try other options.

Sally's launch

I never got beyond this point :( It just wouldn’t load…?

But I am certain that you were brilliant – you always are – and I have placed an order for a copy of the book. Such a beautiful cover and the story promises to be amazing! You are unequivocally the Queen of YA Fiction in this land and I can’t wait to read your latest.

Sea Star Summer

Dear All, For an excerpt of Sally’s novel, click here: Sea Star Summer by Sally Partridge

Another drawing came to me while I was thinking about the open letter to the President today. I posted it on the Karavan Press Instagram and Twitter accounts, just adding “Still dreaming…”

Karavan Press 2020

I am not giving up hope that it will all work out somehow. How? I don’t know. But I believe in magic.

Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. Stay at home.

Good night.

Sleeping kittens

Operation Oysterhood: Day Thirty-Two

OYSTERHOOD is reclusiveness or solitude, or an overwhelming desire to stay at home.



Monday. The usual: Bin, orchid bath, watering of stoep plants, laundry & other household duties. On my way back from the great outdoors beyond my gate where I left the bin for collection this morning, I saw my bedside light illuminating a corner of my bed through the window, and the scene looked so cosy, I was overcome by gratitude for all the blessings in my life. (Just a pity about the burglar bars, but one can almost, almost, unsee them.)

Coffee, Wild Earth, a little bit of reading. Poor focus today.

27 April. I know exactly what I was doing on 27 April 1994: celebrating my best friend’s birthday in Austria. We were still in high school, having met two years earlier and becoming inseparable. One of the many traditions we started way back then was me delivering tulips from my Mom’s garden to Isabella on her birthday. There were always strawberries, too. I messaged her early this morning and she responded, saying she thinks of me. And when my Mom phoned a few days ago, she told me about the tulips in her garden and that she was so sorry I wouldn’t be taking them to Isi.

With Isabella

With Isi in Linz, 2014

Today is also Mary Wollstonecraft’s birthday. I love the fact that these two incredibly important women in my life share a birthday. Alles Liebe zum Geburtstag, liebe Isabella. And happy birthday, dear Ms Wollstonecraft. Where would I be without you two? Thank you for showing me the path.

And, of course, Freedom Day. Happy Freedom Day, dear South Africans. Thank you for allowing me to know your stories, for making me feel at home in this remarkable country!

A dear friend sent me the 1994 video of Evita and Cyril going trout fishing this morning. It made my day!

And the ICU vibrators. Priceless. Still chuckling. They did use vibrators to treat hysteria in the olden days. Nothing like an orgasm to make one feel better. But the best ones are enjoyed together, and level one seems like a distant dream on hope’s horizon…

And so we bake bread.

I chose the easiest route and bought a half-prepared one last week from Ou Meul that waited patiently in the fridge until this morning when I baked it ready. I had the first slice with butter and honey, the best combination for freshly baked bread – the taste reminds me of childhood outings to a family friend’s farm, where they baked bread and made butter themselves, and they also had beehives. Good memories.

256I survived the night on a colour-coordinated-home-concoction of medicine I applied to my poor body to heal the backache. Not sure what worked best, I suspect the hot muti, but I felt much better in the morning, and will apply again tonight.

I survived another shopping excursion today. I ran out of one major essential for the Furry Family and had to brave the shops. I meant to go to only one, but they did not have what I needed, so I had to go to another. While at it, I got some other ‘essential’ stuff like window cleaner, coconut cream (yes, I have rum…), and a hot-water-bottle (among many other more truly essential items). The beautiful wine bottle that has been serving as my temporary hot-water-bottle could not be easily applied to my back last night.

Heart-breaking observations during the excursion: beggars are everywhere & those who do not have to beg have turned shopping into a national sport (the number of people I saw buying only an item or two and the congestion in the aisles were frightening). During the past thirty-two days I have visited four shops, two of them today, during two shopping outings. Anyone who can do the same, please consider it. Please. On my way back home, I heard Africa Melane on CapeTalk discussing the infection clusters around supermarkets in Cape Town. We are so eager for level four, but at this rate, we will be back at level five before we can say a packet of cigarettes.

And then we can say goodbye to most bookshops in the country, among so many other businesses.


I got a copy of Getaway magazine today. I just love the irony of its main story. In the morning, I looked at all the photographs I took while my love and I travelled around Poland exactly two years ago. Reminiscing, I thought: I have no regrets concerning the way we’d embraced life before the lockdown. We travelled near and far at every opportunity we had; we went to the theatre, to festivals, exhibitions, book launches; we treated ourselves to restaurants, even when it was not always financially wise to do so; we entertained friends whenever possible; and we spent so many hours just being in each other’s presence, knowing that the other was near was enough. We lived fully and passionately. And we miss all these things, especially all the occasions that could be enjoyed with family and friends, but we miss them because we lived them and not because we regret not having lived them. And so I will allow the Getaway magazine to take me back to those times of lived possibilities and inspire dreams of the future. Everything will be different for a long time, if not forever, no doubt, but there are places we will go, near and far, again. And that makes me happy.

One of those places will be the bush. Because I have to see ‘greeblings’ (James Hendry of Wild Earth), and…


Until then, I will delight in my Furry Family. Today, Mozart came to visit me on the bed again.

And on my way to the car with all my shopping this afternoon, I found another coin. I did not blow on it for luck (face mask, etc.), but brought it home and disinfected it, then washed my hands a million times. And then I blew on it. We are going to need all the luck we can get.

Time for hot muti.

Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. Stay at home.

Operation Oysterhood: Day Thirty-One

OYSTERHOOD is reclusiveness or solitude, or an overwhelming desire to stay at home.


These two Wild Earth live safari screenshots encapsulate my life under lockdown. I want to crawl into my home and hide. And even if I do crawl out of my shell, everything is very slow. Carrying a heavy burden around might be the reason why my lower back is also gradually giving up on me. The pain began yesterday and it is getting worse by the hour… Ah, well!

The TV watched me all night long, uninterrupted, until about 5am. I usually have a small cup of coffee in the morning, but today my largest mug came out in support.


I must remember that unwashed, uncombed & unbrushed is the look that my Twitter followers like best. Over fifty little red hearts showing up in my notifications for this picture on my timeline. Or was it the mug?


I spent the early morning in my bedroom bed, reading and watching live safari. And then I fell asleep again, despite all that coffee. A deep, restful sleep.

After the 9am news, Margie Orford co-presented a show on SAfm, speaking about the lockdown, or self-isolation, as “sheltering in place”. I love the concept. One of the guests Margie invited to the show, Daniel Canogar, a visual artist, spoke about “humility” and “surrender” and “compassion” in the time of the pandemic and the words resonated with me in so many ways.

It has become my habit to look out for Cathy Kelly’s daily Instagram posts about her life under lockdown. If I don’t see her update before I fall asleep, I check in the morning. Her voice is gentle, wise and full of compassion. Today, she also posted a brave and beautiful text on her blog: When Love Hurts in Lockdown. May all who need a crimson throw find one to keep them going, to guide them to safety.

Verushka Louw is also posting the most touching photographs and stories on Instagram now:

18 April: “My gran was a midwife in a small town, she raised 6 kids and this is the only drawing that I know of that she ever did. Weekends we would go to thrift stores or markets. Sometimes for inspiration, sometimes looking for specific thing, but always looking for treasure. Lockdown is at my mother’s house. So I thought, let me look here every day for treasure. Let me see things with new eyes. I’m going to try and post something each day. Join me. #krapindiekas Tag me if you find something.”

I look forward to the treasures she finds every day. My whole life can be mapped in objects and I find Verushka’s current adventure fascinating.

Three years ago, Verushka baked a cake that said YOU ARE LOVED for one of my launches. I have been known to show up on her doorstep when seeking refuge in my dreams.

The creativity of these women, among many others – the words, images, ideas, photographs they bring into the world during a difficult time – are sustaining in ways that no food or water can be. They form a lifeline.

I have been struggling to read in the past month (has it really been only a month?), but this afternoon and morning I got lost in two books, in the manuscript I am reading and in The Magpie Tree by Katherine Stansfield. It felt good to just turn the pages.


Raspberries marked my garden loop walk today. Whenever I walk, like so many other writers, I am inspired. With every raspberry disappearing, the idea I had yesterday while swimming developed further into a tangible plan.

This past month has been slow, it has had its really rough patches. More will surely come, but despite despair, insomnia, lethargy, tears, nightmares, sore cheeks and a broken back, there has been so much that kept me going. Especially words, those penned by others, and my own.

Looking over the past few weeks, I can’t help thinking of the great Toni Morrison.

This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.

I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge — even wisdom. Like art.

— Toni Morrison

Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. Stay at home. Do language.

Kalk Bay Books: Stranger than Fiction

Kalk Bay Books in the new space

Remember how we all fell in love with the new space that Kalk Bay Books had moved into recently? The moment I walked in, I imagined how I would sit there by the fire in winter and browse the beautiful book selection that Audrey Rademeyer, the bookshop’s owner, has always ready for her readers.

Audrey Rademeyer at the launch of Breaking Milk by dawn GarischYesterday, Audrey sent out a moving letter to the readers of Kalk Bay Books: “Stranger than Fiction”. The message was simple: we love books, cannot imagine our lives without them, none of us knows what the future will bring, but end-of-the-month bills are ruthless, especially for booksellers during a pandemic and nationwide lockdown, please help.

“If you can afford a contribution, no matter how small, I would be very, very grateful,” Audrey wrote. Here are the details:

KALK BAY BOOKS, ABSA account no.: 4066190136, branch code: 421109.

The plea came with a promise: “We’ll open the shop for sales as soon as we’re allowed to.” Winter is nearly upon us and that gentle fire in the fireplace will be waiting for us in Kalk Bay Books. Until then, let the memories of this wonderful independent bookshop keep us warm.

Kalk Bay Books

Kalk Bay Books was one of the venues at which we launched Dawn Garisch’s Breaking Milk. Dawn, a writer and a medical doctor, is a resident of Kalk Bay.

From top left clockwise: John Maytham performing Finuala Dowling’s script “Being Human”. One of the best interviews I have ever heard at Kalk Bay Books: Leonie Joubert speaking to Helen Moffett about the water crisis and beyond. I interviewed Suzan Hackney at the launch of her memoir; one of the most difficult, but deeply moving, interviews for me (I had the honour quite a few times at Kalk Bay Books – thank you!). Ann Donald interviewing me at the launch of The Fifth Mrs Brink. This is just a handful of hundreds of heart-warming literary memories…

For the launch of The Fifth Mrs Brink at Kalk Bay Books, Verushka Louw baked a cake for me.

You Are Loved by Verushka Louw

By donating to Kalk Bay Books, I wish to convey the exact same message back to the bookshop we all love and hope to see reopen as soon as safely possible.

That day, when the bookshops can safely reopen again, will be a day readers across of South Africa will celebrate. Let’s make sure that all the bookshops survive beyond the pandemic…

Operation Oysterhood: Day Thirty

OYSTERHOOD is reclusiveness or solitude, or an overwhelming desire to stay at home.



A migratory night. Fell asleep in front of the TV, moved to the bedroom, woke up at 3am (don’t know why) and could NOT go back to sleep, so moved back in front of the TV, watched one of my favourite series until close to 6am, and fell asleep again. Basically, exercise for the weekend done.

Wild Earth live safari kept me company while I had coffee and an almond croissant – fresh and hot from the oven. I ordered a few things from the Ou Meul Bakkery yesterday, delivered to my gate by Mr Delivery within thirty minutes. Simple. Delicious.


I loved every second of the safari, but I was most happy to identify the birds on the buffalo’s back in my bird book.


After the safari and some reading in the morning, it was time for another official address, clarifying level four. A few phrases stuck with me.

“The things are in our hands.” Indeed. And how!

“Touching is a thing of the past.” Sadly.

“We need to move towards a blue map; blue is good.” I am all blue in other ways, but blue has always been my favourite colour, so I like the idea of moving towards a blue territory.

“Collective challenge; individual sacrifices.”

Yes. And then, of course, the thing about books. Educational books. Education is essential, no doubt. Educational books are level four essential – also no argument. But…

Many years ago, one of my plays was published in an educational book.

The winner included was my play, A Change of Mind. The award was a lot of money (R7500), for which I was extremely grateful. Up to that point it was the single largest amount of money I’d earned from my writing. I paid a few bills with it and bought myself one thing that always reminds me of this wonderful win: a quilt. Every time I wrap myself in it, I remember that feeling. I also remember my first royalty statement a year after the book was published. When it arrived, I thought that I wasn’t opening the file properly, so I sent it to my IT brother to examine. He opened it on his computer and phoned: “No, you did get it right, it does say R4.63…” It was actually transferred into my account! The following year it was about ten times as much. The year after, I manged to buy a bottle of cheap bubbly with the royalties to celebrate the statement passing the R100 mark for the first time. The statements stopped coming after that…

It’s not easy being a writer, not even if you contribute to educational books.

And yet: are books essential? To me, yes. They are my bones, my flesh, my blood, my soul, the air I breathe. But in general? Not to many people. I live in a bubble of readers and writers, but I understand that books are not important in any way to many, many people. And this will always be my deepest literary sorrow. But I get how reality works and how privileged I am (even with all the battles that had to be fought by my parents and by me to arrive at where I am today).

I can think of many creative ways of how to get books, any books, SAFELY to readers desperate to have them during level five or four of lockdown, but in the greater scheme of things, I know that the logistics of it cannot be a priority at a time when people are hungry and have no roofs over their heads. Books should not be a luxury item, but in our economy they are, and the reality of it is what it is. We still need to find ways of supporting each other as writers and readers and of looking after the networks that allows us to share books. We are creative people, so let’s be creative. I hope that we won’t have to wait until level three after all, but if we do, let us be patient, suspend our disbelief, and do whatever we can to keep up our spirits and to keep the booksellers, distributors and publishers we depend on alive. Donations, vouchers, pre-orders. Whatever it takes. And in the meantime, let’s look at the treasures of our libraries and keep reading. Reading is allowed at any level. And so is writing.

By staying at home, we limit the movement and interaction of people. For now, that’s the only way we can keep the infection rate low and not overwhelm the fragile health care system.

Today, we have reached 86 confirmed Covid-19 related deaths. If we don’t follow the regulations, this number will explode and we will not know how to live with ourselves for having been responsible. If we survive ourselves, that is…


After the official address and a small lunch, I read and sunbathed and watched birds in my garden and thought about the different levels and what they mean for the future. All warm from the sun, I managed to get into the pool and had the longest swim of the lockdown yet. It cleared my mind and soul and, as it often happens when I am immersed in water, I had an idea. I will be channelling two great women writers I admire to make it happen. We just need to get to level four, so that I can get a few missing essentials… Watch this space.

Mozart came to say hello and to cuddle a bit and then settled in his nest next to the pool while I was swimming.


Once I was finished and had my shower and made myself a drink, Mozart visited again on the stoep to see what I was having and what new books I was about to open.

I started reading Katherine Stansfield a few years ago when a friend I met during my year in Wales sent me her debut novel. She also studied in Aberyswyth and became a writer. Her debut, The Visitor, was exquisite, and I have been a fan ever since – of her fiction and her poetry. I have had her latest two novels for a while, but they were on that much loved, always growing, to-read pile, the one that will keep me going for a long, long time now, if necessary, and I am so pleased to have them.


My drink of the afternoon was an experiment. I have quite a few bottles of alcohol in the house (don’t hate me) and I am not a heavy drinker so the booze will last forever, but I thought that maybe I should start trying out new recipes. This one was based on the one I tried out on my poor literary salon crowd last year: “Surfer on Acid”. I didn’t have one of the main ingredients, but I improvised with lemon cordial (which was a gift from a writer who attends the literary salon). The result was “Surfer on Lemon Acid” and it was absolutely delicious. Better than the original, to be honest… Tom Cruise, move over!

I tuned in to Wild Earth only for a little while in the afternoon, but was rewarded with this beyond-cute sighting. Baby hyenas. Irresistible.

I will leave you with a quote from the book I finished reading today. I first heard Garth Greenwell speak at the Open Book Festival and loved his debut novel, What Belongs to You. Cleanness is his second book. I hope to review it properly soon; for now, I will share the quote that moved me the most.

“They could make a whole life, I thought, surprised to think it, these moments that filled me up with sweetness, that had changed the texture of existence for me. I had never thought anything like it before.” — Garth Greenwell

Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. Stay at home.

Review: The Upside of Down – How Chaos and Uncertainty Breed Opportunity in South Africa by Bruce Whitfield


I’d never thought that a radio show about business news could be of personal interest to me, but I have been enjoying Bruce Whitfield’s clear and accessible Money Show for a few years now. Whitfield’s The Upside of Down is the last book I bought at a bookshop before the lockdown, but it is also available as an ebook. Although written just before the pandemic hit South Africa’s shores, it is an astoundingly fitting and inspiring read for our terrifying times.

The title alone already feels like a reassurance. The same clarity with which Whitfield presents his show can be found in his writing. One doesn’t have to be an economic and political fundi to follow the arguments presented in The Upside of Down. And after failing miserably at the quiz included in the first chapter of the book, I happily absorbed the knowledge and ideas that followed.

There is no way of assessing our current economic situation without wanting to weep, and Whitfield presents us with a sober picture after the looting of the Zuma decade, but he steers his readers towards the positive stories of entrepreneurs, big and small, succeeding against all odds. These are extremely empowering. He also outlines the basic traits that visionaries and companies require to thrive in an unstable environment as well as what socio-economic factors could contribute to stabilising it in order for the desperately-needed growth to follow and employment figures to increase.

Opportunities arrive all the time but, because of a persistent atmosphere of doom and gloom, not enough of us dare to dream. Whitfield understand the power of storytelling in channelling positive energies towards turning those visions into reality: “It’s in the very crisis in which South Africa finds itself today that there lies an enormous opportunity for renewal, growth and optimism.”

The Upside of Down: How Chaos and Uncertainty Breed Opportunity in South Africa

Bruce Whitfield

Macmillan, 2020

First published in the Cape Times on 24 April 2020.

PS This is Salieri, taking the title seriously and seeing the world from a different perspective.


Operation Oysterhood: Day Twenty-Nine

OYSTERHOOD is reclusiveness or solitude, or an overwhelming desire to stay at home.



Waking up with Glinka. In our bed, in the bedroom. A small achievements of lockdown life.

So: level five. A new definition of our reality of the past twenty-nine days. Other new phrases in our vocabulary since last night: different ‘levels’ of hope, the endearing ‘face mask fumble’, the laugh-out-loud funny ‘imbleach him’. The latter aimed at the Tangerine Troll, of course. Our President is exemplary, endearing fumbles and all. I cannot imagine how he copes with the demands of his job during the pandemic, how exhausted he must be, and yet, he shows up, and when he does, we all marvel at his leadership. Especially when we watch that ruthless egomaniac across the Atlantic for comparison. Imbleach him, please. Do it for the people of the US, and for the rest of the world.

Level four from 1 May. I understand the necessity of it and will support the measures in any way I can, yet I cannot help thinking of another 1 May a long time ago when I marched in the streets of Jelenia Góra, Poland, as part of a festive parade celebrating Workers’ Day. The authorities let us, even encouraged it. In 1986. A few days after 26 April 1986.

On 1 May 2020, we will all be aware of the dangers involved in exposing ourselves to the world outside, but I can’t help worrying of the possible consequences. This time the authorities will guide us well, but I have my doubts about our ability to listen to and obey the new level four regulations that will be put in place to protect our health and lives…


Highlights of level five day twenty-nine? Speaking on a clear phone line to my Mom for nearly an hour, cooking with one of the lemons from my garden, continuing with the manuscript I was asked to endorse if I like it (I do, a lot), working on my own manuscript, receiving two beautiful emails from a friend, also an author, who recognised why I struggle with the lockdown and not only saw me, but showed me that she cares. Kindness wrapped up in words. And the light of highlights: a big fire for a little braai in the evening.


Good night.

Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. Stay at home.